Source: Noah Rothman / Mediaite
The clock is ticking for the Republican Party. The ramifications surrounding the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down portions of the Voting Rights Act will take time to materialize, but some immediate effects can be anticipated. The most immediate will be the reengagement of broad swaths of the minority electorate in the political process. Those reenergized minority voters will threaten the GOP’s electoral prospects ahead of the 2014 midterms; prospects which are themselves entirely dependent on a low turnout in the first place. The longer term impacts of the Court’s VRA decision are more mixed and present opportunities for both parties. The Republican Party has a choice to make: given the way in which the congress GOP has approached the debate surrounding immigration reform, it seems as though Republicans in Congress will take a proactive and inclusive approach to reforming the VRA. If they fail to make an intellectually-consistent and apolitical case for the reform of the Voting Rights Act, the damage done to the GOP’s image among minority voters may be irreparable.
The Supreme Court’s decision represents a great opportunity for the GOP to adapt and appeal to minority groups. The VRA’s preclearance provisions are distinctly anti-federalist. The enforcement, or lack of enforcement, of the preclearance provisions enshrined in the VRA’s Sections 4 and 5 were selectively enforced by the Department of Justice – itself, an increasingly suspect institution. An unintended consequence of the VRA was the Balkanization of the American electorate — shrinking the opportunities for voters to have a substantial impact on the political process and reducing the act of voting in many districts to a perfunctory exercise.
To be blunt, the VRA has evolved from a necessary check on a variety of suspect regions of the country to an arbitrarily enforced, anachronistic, exclusionary law which legally ratifies racial segregation. By 2013, the law performed virtually the opposite function it was designed for 1965.
But the VRA is not going away. Though gutted by the Court, the law remains an important bulwark against the enactment of racially discriminatory changes to local election laws. Republicans would be well-served to get out in front of the issue of VRA reform with solution-oriented proposals aimed at creating a more modern, effective, and politically neutral enforcement of the VRA’s preclearance provisions. Don’t hold your breath.
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